Trigger warning for biphobia and bi erasure
The main stream media (MSM) is not very good at discussing bisexuality. They tend towards the old myth of “straight, gay or lying”, which means that for the most part people who don’t identify as straight, gay or lesbian, tend to end up with one of those labels anyway, because bisexuality isn’t an option, despite it being right there in the middle of the acronym for the community of non-straight and/or non-gender conforming people – LGBTI.
So it started with a garbage fire of an article published by The Telegraph. It’s a UK paper, I really don’t know how it rates generally, but this article was awful. The article was titled: ‘I felt like I was falling’: the moment I found out my husband was leading a double life. He was gay
Let’s take the first moment of epic fail in this article, by the author Camilla Smith:
My husband Peter was away for work when I found the postcard of Manly Beach, in Australia. Sent from an unfamiliar friend, there was a comment about watching men sunbathing, and how Peter would enjoy the view.
After 10 years together, seven of marriage, it was instantly clear that Peter was gay.
“Instantly clear” that despite what I assume were 10 years of mostly happy relationship, one where they were together for such a long time, that Peter is gay. Not bisexual. In fact, in this entire article, Smith is of the opinion that bisexual men do not exist. She goes to great lengths to pain Peter a philandering gay man using her as a “beard”.
So Smith continues:
I had a cup of tea, walked the dog, and when Peter came home, I told him what I had found.
He didn’t break down. He didn’t try to deny the friend or that he had a sexual interest in men. He didn’t, however, agree he was gay.
I think, for the age group of men like Peter and Keith Vaz, the image of a gay man is different to what you see now. If you grew up in the 70s, being gay meant Larry Grayson and John Inman, camp-as-a-row-of-tents clichés. They must have looked at these images and thought, that’s not me.
It was such a narrow view of homosexuality. Now you have rugby players, CEOs and soldiers who are out, but not then.
And yet Smith has no clue about bisexuality. For her, if a man is attracted to men, he cannot be attracted to women. Smith’s view of the spectrum of human sexuality is so incredibly narrow, that she could not even conceive that her husband, the man she’s spent 10 years in a relationship with, could be bisexual.
I don’t think he wanted to come out because I don’t think he wanted to be gay. Somehow, for him, it was preferable to be bisexual.
Probably because he’s actually bisexual. It’s this erasure that harms bisexual people so much. Not just Peter who is in the midst of being erased by his wife, but every other bisexual who reads this awful story and feels that they can’t be bisexual because we’re not real, that they have to deny who they are because the only options are straight or gay. This erasure leads to the incredibly high rate of domestic violence against bisexual people, as well as higher rates of suicide and drug abuse than gay and lesbian people.
I was happy to believe him. We had a good life, a nice home. I wanted to save our marriage. We went to counselling. We made love.
But every so often I’d have a snoop. And I’d find a ticket to a gay club, or find a receipt for a gay sex toy.
She wanted to believe him, but clearly didn’t trust him. I don’t actually quite understand what Smith believed. Clearly her husband was (and presumably still is) attracted to women as well as men. You know, the definition of bisexuality is attraction to more than one gender, so Peter is doing a great job of that.
Smith’s lack of trust is incredibly grating. She clearly isn’t interested in communicating honestly with Peter, talking to him about establishing boundaries that make her feel safe, talking about what he does. No, instead she’s “snooping” through his stuff. Finding a ticket to a gay club, which might just be where he was hanging out with his non-straight friends, or finding receipts for “gay sex toys”. I have no idea what gay sex toys actually are. I assume Smith found receipts for buttplugs or other anal play toys – and if he’s using them himself for his own pleasure, I don’t actually understand what her problem is.
I’m trying to put a time line together of this whole relationship mess, and Smith is not very helpful with that… but anyway
I do feel he stole my adult life away. He could have told me before we got married that he felt he was bisexual and wanted an open marriage. He could have told me when I found the postcard that he was gay and given me the chance to start again. He could have told me that like many men – gay or straight – he didn’t want to be monogamous.
Ok… no one steals your life. Smith gave her time and energy to this relationship and apart from the time at the end when she was an untrusting, biphobic jerk, she seemed to be happy. Probably apart from the IVF bit, no one likes that.
Maybe, and Smith doesn’t consider this, Peter didn’t know that he was bisexual when they married each other. Not everyone realises when they hit sexual maturity that they aren’t the societally expected heterosexual. People do come out late in life. Also, nowhere in this whole article does Smith say that Peter actually admitted that he cheated on her. She believes that he has, and I’m sure she would have included it if that conversation occurred and he’d put his hand up and said yes. So perhaps Peter, and since we don’t know I can’t say for certain, was entirely monogamous with Smith, and apart from hanging out with LGBTI people (not actually a crime) did everything well.
Also, stop with calling this bisexual man gay. Peter has said repeatedly that he’s not gay, and Smith’s erasure of that is so wrong.
And apart from the Telegraph actually publishing this awful bit of writing, it’s the bit at the end which adds to the harm:
Straight partners of gay, lesbian and transgender people can find confidential support…
That’s ok, bisexual people are definitely a figment of your imagination. I haven’t provided the link to the email address that appears at the bottom of the article, I am not convinced that providing it would actually be a wise move.
Ok, so that was the first of my rants. The second article which I noticed pretty much erased bisexuals and called bisexual women lesbians was published by The Guardian, “‘Love is always complicated’: Elizabeth Gilbert and the rise of later-in-life lesbians”.
I want to be completely clear here that I accept that there are women who come out later in life as lesbians, and for their own completely valid reasons did not come out earlier. I also want to state that I accept that people have the right to label themselves.
The last point I just made has the following thoughts from me though. If bisexuality wasn’t so incredibly stigmatised as an identity, would more people who are attracted to more than one gender use the label? There are plenty of other labels under the bisexual umbrella (as several of us call it) that are used such as fluid, pansexual, polysexual, etc. I think that those who identify with any label that suggests that they are non-monosexual is likely to face the same stigma that bisexuals face.
Later-in-life lesbians – women who identify as lesbians or declare same-sex feelings in their 30s, often after serious relationships, marriage and children – have come more into the public consciousness in recent years, with a string of high-profile women publicly leaving heterosexual relationships for female partners.
“Or declare same-sex feelings”… so those who aren’t identifying as lesbians, and are probably bisexual. The word bisexual does not appear once in this article. Not once. It’s so thoroughly erased that this article pretty much states that if a woman comes out as attracted to other women, she can only be identified as a lesbian.
This is despite the following lovely quote from Susie Orbach:
Susie Orbach, who spent more than 30 years with the writer Joseph Schwartz, and had two children with him, before marrying novelist Jeanette Winterson, writes in the Guardian on Friday: “We are finally beginning to recognise that sexuality is neither a binary nor fixed. That love, attraction, identity, attachment and sexuality are more layered and interesting than they have been allowed to be represented in the public space until now and that as their complexity is opened up to us, the crudity of realising you were always gay or always straight is for many people a nonsense.”
And instead of asking why women don’t want to be labelled despite the fact that it would appear that they are bisexual, and instead of examining how non-lesbian women in same-sex relationships find community and operate in a world where they are being mislabelled, we get:
Jan Gooding, chair of Stonewall and group brand director with insurers Aviva, said that women who shift sexuality later in life are often keen not to be labelled in any way – like Gilbert, who does not explicitly refer to herself as a lesbian in her post but rather declares that she loves another woman.
Gooding speaks from experience: she had been married for 16 years “to a very wonderful man” and had two sons when she fell in love with another woman, but said she feels very protective of her husband and children and previous relationship. “People find it difficult to believe that I could fall in love with a woman out of the blue,” she said. “But it does happen, people haven’t necessarily been holding out until middle age. This idea that everybody knows deep down does a great disservice to individual journeys.”
I would love for more people to seize the identity bisexual, to be like Peter and stay firm, insisting that they are bisexual, not gay, not straight. To state that there is nothing wrong with being bisexual, and that bisexuality is just another sexual orientation along the spectrum that is human sexuality. This is why I am out. This is why I am visible. I want people to know that they can be bisexual and happy, that they can be in relationships with bisexual people and be happy, and that finding community and belonging are important and healthy things to do.
One day the MSM will get it right, and I’ll keep ranting until they do.